Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Thomas More by Richard Marius

I've been re-reading Thomas More by Richard Marius, and found this interesting passage on page 99. '...More's account is only one of several (my emphasis) written about Richard III by Richard's contemporaries, (again, my emphasis) and none of them is flattering to the usurper king***. Some of these histories were - like More's own - left in manuscript and published long after the writers died. They can hardly be interpreted as self-conscious efforts to flatter the Tudors.'

*** - Why bring Henry VII into this? Oh, sorry, it's author bias, silly me.

This set me thinking, because the only 'accounts' I can think of that might class as contemporary are More, Croyland and Mancini. (Alianore Audley is actually fictional you know, although probably as close to the truth as any of them.) Scarcely several. Hmmm? What accounts have I been missing all these years?

Let's do a bit of deconstruction. (I love a bit of deconstruction with my morning tea.)

First off, More wasn't even born until 1478. He was, roughly, a contemporary of Richard III like I am a contemporary of JFK! He obviously relied on sources. It's generally assumed the work was virtually dictated by Morton, in whose household More lived as a youth. But there's no real evidence for this, just assumption. Morton was Cardinal Archbishop and Chancellor. Would he have had the time, let alone the inclination, to provide some boy in his household with the full SP on Richard III? Anyway, Morton's opinion on Richard - it'd be like asking Hitler for his views on Winston Churchill. (Or vice versa if you like.)

Of course More could have asked other people, but how many of them would be well informed? The old Duke of Norfolk perhaps, the Surrey of Bosworth? Again, would such an important noble have had time to spare for a young lawyer wanting to talk about the past? What could he have said anyway? 'Well, Mr More, I'm glad you asked that, because Richard III was the best king we ever had, and Henry Tudor was a slimy hypocrite with as much right to the English throne as the Grand Cham of Tartary.' The guy spent 1485-1513 just trying to win his dukedom back! He would be guarded in what he said, as would any other surviving Yorkist with half a brain.

Now Croyland, probably the best source we have. Set aside the author's paranoid hatred of anyone from north of Peterborough for a moment. He is generally assumed to have been a well-informed royal clerk - though historians debate about exactly who he was.

But this 'well-informed royal clerk' says nothing about the proposed marriage of Richard III to Joanna of Portugal and the related marriage of Elizabeth of York to the Duke of Beja. Instead he rattles on about the silly fable that Richard planned to marry Elizabeth. Folks, he simply can't have done as the Portuguese marriage proposals were issued within nine days of Anne's death. So either the Chronicler didn't know about the intended Portuguese marriages (in which case he was not a 'well-informed royal clerk' at least as far as Richard's reign is concerned) or he deliberately suppressed evidence that didn't suit his anti-Richard bias (in which case he is not reliable as a witness.)

As for Mancini, he didn't even speak English. He was here for a short visit and presumably picked up what gossip he could understand from people able (and bothered) to speak to him in Latin or French. It's rather like me visiting Russia for a few months and writing an article on President Putin. Except I would have access to a whole range of English language sources through the internet and other media, and at a pinch I could e-mail Mr Putin and ask for his comments on my account. Mancini could not do these things! (Pity, because Richard's e-mail response would have been fascinating.)

Of course, I have forgotten the following contemporary sources! :

Richard III, My Part in his Downfall, Sir William Stanley.

How I stole Richard III's Virginity and Broke His Bed, Jane Shore.

My Saintly Son, and how Richard III Drowned Puppies, Blessed Margaret Beaufort.

How the Lancastrians Were Always The Rightful Kings Anyway (with an account of the holy life of Henry VI, and how I was forced to serve the evil Edward IV) , Cardinal Morton.

Any Road for Twopence, Rt Hon. Thomas, Earl of Derby.


Alianore said...

Great post! I'd love to leave a sensible comment, but I'm laughing too hard!

Kavita said...

I have absolutely no argument with your deconstruction of Marius' claim that More is a contemporary source -- all other things aside, he didn't write The History of King Richard III until roughly 1513, so even if he'd noticed the events of 1483 as a five-year-old, they would have been far enough removed that it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.

That being said, I have to take issue with the classification of More's work as what we would call history. Never mind the title -- it's Tacitean history, as much concerned with a dissection of tyranny and political rhetoric, if not probably more concerned with those things than with what actually happened. I don't actually think More was writing in support of Henry VII either; there are a number of passages in the History that can be read as very critical of the Tudors as well as Richard III.

Lastly, the assumption that Morton dictated the History has been more or less shot down, mostly on account of those veiled criticisms. Indeed, those are also presented as the reason why More never finished the History, and why it wasn't printed or circulated during his lifetime.

That being said, love the potential biography titles.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Please do share Jane Shore's memoir with us!

Alas, Ricardians do their own cherry-picking here, though. The tale that Elizabeth Woodville stole vast sums from the royal treasury before she went into sanctuary rests entirely on one sentence in Mancini (which Mancini himself reports only as a rumor he has heard)--but most Ricardians are willing to credit this part of Mancini.

While I doubt that Richard actually planned to marry Elizabeth of York, Croyland's account is given credence by the Mercers' Company Records of 1485, which confirm his public denial of the rumors that he was planning to do so. There's also, of course, the supposed letter written by Elizabeth of York that Buck saw.

Do we know when negotiations actually started with Portugal for Joanna's hand? Barrie Williams states that Brampton was sent there soon after Anne's death, but do we know for cetain that the sole purpose for his embassy was the marriage proposal? Doreen Court suggests that the match was proposed by Portugal after word reached it that Richard had no intention of marrying his niece.

Brian said...

I agree Kavita that we should probably not regard More as a source. In my mind, his work is more akin to what we would call a novel. The distinction between factual history and fiction was not really drawn in those days.

Susan, I agree everyone cherry-picks, unfortunately that's what happens when people have so few sources and such unsatisfactory ones. There's something in each for everyone, if you look hard enough. It appears to me there was little enough in the treasury and my understanding is that Edward Woodville got most of his funds by looting a merchant ship, not by taking non-existent money from the Tower.

My understanding of the Joanna of Portugal story goes back as far as the Ricardian March 1983 where Barrie Williams wrote an article on the subject that seems to have been widely ignored. His principal source is a work by Domingos Mauricio Gomes dos Santos called 'O Mosterio de Jesus de Aveiro.'

According to Williams Brampton was sent to Portugal as early as 22 March 1485, only six days after Anne's death. 'Brampton brought a double proposal to Portugal - for Richard to marry Joanna and for Elizabeth of York to marry...John, Duke of Beja...In return Richard offered, if necessary, to send an English army to help the King against dissident members of the aristocracy...'

Doreen Court may be right, given that I don't have Brampton's briefing papers. But even then the tendency was for the gentleman to ask the lady, even in diplomatic matches. Let's say for a minute that the Portuguese did suggest the marriage. Would that not be even more remarkable given Richard's alleged status as blood-stained tyrant and potential incest-freak, and Joanna's undoubted reputation as an exceedingly religious woman who had already rejected two very high ranking potential husbands?

Susan Higginbotham said...

Given the fact that royal and noble women were little more than pawns to be married for advantage, I'm not sure that the willingness of the Portuguese to consider Richard III as a husband necessarily proves that he had a spotless reputation abroad, especially if the Portuguese would gain by such a marriage and if they had no reason to believe that Joanna herself was in danger from such a match. (After all, Henry VIII's unquestioned record of shedding blood, including that of two of his wives, didn't prevent him from finding brides, even after Anne Boleyn's execution.) Certainly rumors were circulating abroad by 1484 that Richard had killed his nephews.

In a 1981 article, Williams cites a warrant for issue at E404/78/3/47 as his source for stating that Brampton was sent to Portugal as an ambassador. It'd be interesting to see what the warrant actually says.

In any case, I suppose it's possible that Richard told his closest advisers of the Portuguese negotiations, but not all of his advisers, which would account for Croyland's failure to mention the matter.

melitzanis said...

Any interest in writing ultra short versions of any of these memoirs just to make us smile?

Paul Trevor Bale said...

Re Croyland, you forgot to mention the author's clear, at times almost over the top, bias in favour of the Woodvilles, Elizabeth in particular. That apart great post!

Kavita said...

Paul makes a good point -- David Baldwin's biography of Elizabeth (2002) puts forth the suggestion that the Second Continuator of the Crowland Chronicle was possibly Elizabeth's personal secretary, John Gunthorpe, which would account for both his knowledge of the court, and
his bias toward the Woodville family in general. However, I think the top contender is still John Russell, based on textual references to an embassy to Burgundy that match Russell's movements.

Out of curiosity, are there any references in English records about the Portugese marriage? I didn't see any in the Patent Rolls, and that is where one would normally find records of money given to ambassadors. Admittedly, that wasn't what I was looking for at the time, so I may well not have noticed.

Paul Trevor Bale said...

The Portuguese marriage negotiations began only a few weeks after Anne's death. There is an extensive discussion in Annette Carson's book The Maligned King which references an article in The Ricardian from 1983. I'll dig it out and see what that writer's references are, but it appears they were serious, and received positive responses from Portugal. Ambassadors are on record as having been at Windsor that summer any way to re-negotiate the Treaty of Windsor with Richard.

trish wilson said...

Dear Brian

Have you or any other person contributing to this page ever read More's eloquent elegy on the death of Elizabeth of York?

By which time 'ce canaille d'un archeveque nomme Morton ne vit plus

On nous emmerde et quand on commence m'emmerder je commence a me facher

Bonne journee et a bientot

Anonymous said...

Trish, was the last section of your post meant to include French insults directed at Morton? It was rather amusing...

Anyway, yes, I've read the 'Rufull Lamentation', and talk about it in my dissertation. It's a lovely poem, if a bit stereotypical in terms of how it represents Elizabeth (no surprise whatsoever considering the context).

trish wilson said...

There is a perfectly logical explaination for a potential Portuguese marriage alliance. The Portuguese were in desperate need of allies following the unification of Spain through the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella whose first objective was to boot Islam out of Spain. Given that by 1485 they were well on their way and the fact that Spain controlled large chunks of the Western Mediterranean including Southern Italy, and their near isolation by ocean and Spanish terrritory I rather think the Portgueuse were getting worried about what FI&I would do next. Thanks to Master Columbus follwing the end of Islamic rule in Spain F&I had other ideas.

By the way is anyone else on this thread aware that Isabella was ofered as a bride to Edward IV by her brother Henry the Impotent?